Would You Use an 'AirBnB for Swimming Pools'?

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Two Dutch dudes are Kickstarting an app and service called Pooloha, which is a kind of AirBnB for swimming pools.

Guests will be able to rent a pool for a day or a week, and the price is set by the host, the pool owner. 

Part of their pitch is that if you could save money by renting an AirBnB without a pool, then renting a nearby pool separately only on the days you intend to use it. (It's a good point. Our recent AirBnB in Cassis, France, shown in the photo, cost a fortune because of the pool -- and the view.) 

How Do You Make Perfect S'Mores?

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Some Smithsonian editorial staff figured out a way to expense sugar and chocolate by tackling the controversial topic of how to make s'mores. 

Perfection is complicated, as the resulting article suggests: 

"Far too often, the marshmallow isn’t hot enough to melt the chocolate, and you end up with inconveniently brittle chocolate. Other times, the outside of the marshmallow is burned to a crisp before the inside melts, and you’re stuck with more bitter char than you want." 

Ultimately, the author suggests that the secret is physics. For example, she points out, milk chocolate melts at lower temperatures than dark chocolate, which should change how you make s'mores. 

While physics is important, I completely disagree with the writer's conclusion. The real secret is the quality of ingredients. 

The article says, for example, that cheap milk chocolate is ideal for s'mores because they melt at a lower temperature. 

This is insanity. The author is implying that taste is irrelevant and only texture matters. Cheap milk chocolate tastes horrible. 

I would argue that texture matters, but not nearly as much as taste. That's why I make s'mores with super high-quality chocolate, home-made graham crackers made with high-quality grains, and home-made marshmallows. 

You could argue that it's not worth the trouble. But that's a different argument. The question isn't how to make easy s'mores, but how to make the best ones. 

What's your secret? 

The Quantified Trump

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President Donald Trump is a liar of world-historic proportions. Various media outlets have tried to quantify his falsehoods, and the latest comes from the Toronto Star

According to the Star, 5.1 percent of all the words Trump says are part of a lie. 

But the most astonishing claim is that the Star says Trump is lying a lot more in recent days: He's now up to a 7.3 percent rate. That means for every 14 words he speaks, one of them is part of a lie. 

Last year, Trump averaged 2.9 lies per day. This year, he's up to 5.1 lies per day. 

When real news is worse than fake news

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The brilliant and recently ended TV series, The Americans," depicted the lives of two Russian KGB "sleeper" agents posing as an American couple during the Cold War. By day, they ran their travel agent service and raised their all-American kids. By night, they assassinated Kremlin critics, stole military secrets, carried on sexual relations with marks with access to intelligence and much more. 

KGB "sleeper" agents living for decades in the US as Americans were and probably are a real thing

Now, we've learned, the Russians have invented the concept of "sleeper" news sources. 

An analysis by NPR found that 48 of the fake news sites formerly maintained on Twitter by Putin's paid trolls at Internet Research Agency were local news sites that didn't post or link to fake news at all. 

These sites posed as local newspapers, such as @ElPasoTopNews, @MilwaukeeVoice, @CamdenCityNews and @Seattle_Post.

They took advantage of closed newspapers. For example, they had a Chicago Daily News Twitter account, a newspaper that closed in 1978. That account existed for years before being suspended by Twitter, accumulating 16,000 followers. 

The most shocking fact is that these accounts posted real news, not fake news. 

Their purpose appears to be to use both the "local news" angle and also the trust built up by posting real news to build trust among followers. In the event of some major future news story important to the Kremlin, they would only then post the fake news to throw the truth into doubt. 

Smart readers can often spot fake news, and ignore it, especially when an account repeatedly promotes fake news. But building reader trust with real news is more dangerous. 

Russia is playing a long game on disinformation designed to destabilize the United States. 

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iPhone case has eight legs that pop out during a fall

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A German engineering student named Phillip Frenzel invented an iPhone case called the ADcase that protects itself in a fall by sprouting eight springy legs during free-fall. Four of the legs curl to protect the front of the phone, and four to protect the back. The case also contains a battery for extending the phone's battery life. Here comes the video!

Thinking about the Big Mac Index

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Everything here in Switzerland is super expensive. The price of an espresso at a wonderful pastry shop in downtown Zurich, for example, is 5.30 Swiss Francs. Adding water to that for an Americano raises the price by two bucks.

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The exchange rate between the Swiss Franc and the Dollar is nearly one-to-one. Yet the price of an espresso is probably on average twice as expensive. 

That drives home the point that exchange rates are a bad indicator of the cost of living. 

This is an important fact for Amira and me, who live abroad much of the time. And it's a point I make in my book: Nomadism gives you enormous flexibility in your cost of living. By choosing a country and city or town to live in, you're choosing how much everything will cost. 

A better indicator is The Big Mac Index, invented by The Economist years ago. It compares the relative price of a Big Mac in different countries, which is supposed to factor purchase power, not exchange rates. 

Here's the most recent accounting on The Big Mac Index, a pulse taken in January. 

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As you can see, all the places we've been living lately -- Switzerland, the United States, Italy and France -- are in the top 8 most expensive countries, according to The Big Mac Index. 

There are several things wrong with the index as a guide for nomads. 

The most obvious one is that, for us, France was far more expensive than Italy. Yet The Big Mac Index shows Italy more expensive than France. 

The less obvious but more significant fact is that locations within countries vary wildly. For example, the cost of living in San Francisco, California, is many times higher than the cost of living in McAllen, Texas. 

One alternative is The Starbucks Index, which compares the price of a latte. That may be more relevant to me, personally, because I do buy lattes but do not buy Big Macs. 

Another problem is that while exchange rates are calculated minute-by-minute, the purchasing power metrics are calculated annually, to the best of my knowledge. 

The biggest lesson is that burger- or coffee-based indices, despite their flaws, are better indicators than exchange rate, as the Swiss example proves. And they can be used as a general guide to cost of living. For example, in general The Big Mac Index showed that in January, Switzerland was super expensive and Ukraine was super cheap and that India and Mexico, while not the cheapest destinations in the world, are still great bargains right now. And this is good guidance. 

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The Upside of Globalization

Spotted this shop as we were walking toward another burger joint yesterday in Turin, Italy. They've got it all! Mexican! Indian! Burgers! Beer! And they're making all this stuff with Italian tomatoes and other ingredients. 

Reviews say their food is good and cheap.

I say that if I could eat only at one fast-food place for the rest of my life, this might be it. 

Should children be polite to virtual assistants?

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It’s a simple question. And for most parents and child development experts, the answer is simple, too: Yes, of course they should. Nobody wants to hear children rudely barking orders at, or verbally abusing, an adult voice.

But teaching kids to say “please” and “thank you” to Alexa and Google Assistant may have unintended consequences and raise other questions that aren’t so simple.

Politeness features aim to help kids learn good manners. But the unintended consequences might be to teach kids that intelligent machines are more or less the same as people, or even that they’re authority figures that should legitimately scrutinize human behavior. From infancy, children could get used to the idea that AI can refuse to comply with instructions unless human behavior is judged acceptable by the machines.